REFLECTION: On Cedric Bomford's "Mountain Embassy"

Mohammad Zaki Rezwan | November 14, 2019

The steel door opened by itself. Someone finally approved my arrival from the inside of a foreign embassy. As I walked into the embassy I was met by an eerie sensation. Each of my hesitant footsteps was noted by invisible observers; I could hear the noisy whispers from their walkie-talkies. This incident took place in Bangladesh — a country that did not seem to exist inside of that embassy. I asked myself, did I bring my reality here? Or has the embassy brought its reality to me? Years later, I encountered the same questions when I visited Cedric Bomford's Mountain Embassy. With these questions, I seek my own reflection in Bomford's installation.

Mountain Embassy is part of Bomford's ongoing inquiry into the consolidation of geo-political/cultural/economical hierarchies through architectural structures and their institutional realities. Situated at the top of Burnaby mountain, the installation is situated at the edge of Simon Fraser University's academic realm, and even though its visual identity juxtaposes the vibrancy of neighbouring commercial ventures, its architectural form could barely obscure its parasitical existence. Reinforced by timber framing, the installation leeches off a condominium sales center using a photogrammetric camouflage of infiltrative errors.

Cedric Bomford, Mountain Embassy. Installation view at SFU Gallery, 2019. Photo: Blaine Campbell.

The installation incorporates a complex traversing of real and virtual. The pixels are sourced from the physical reality of SFU's monolithic appearance. Through digital remapping and reconstruction, these pixels metamorphose in virtual space and attain a simulated existence. The photogrammetric process may have infused this simulation with mistakes but it functions no less than its real-world counterparts. Besides, the fluid nature of such virtual construction could transmit itself to any distant location, by taking the shape of any host. The virtual construction enters the domain of real as a façade of the sales center, contemplating multiple realities. The multiple realities in the visual vocabulary of Mountain Embassy include the concrete modernist vision of Arthur Erickson and Geoffrey Massey, designers of SFU's brutalist architecture, but the distorted windows and shrubs evince disorientation and allude to the insubstantiality of the façade.

During the world wars, artists were called upon to design camouflage for the military. Their purpose was to mislead the opposing armies from destroying infrastructure and equipment, as well as critical cultural monuments. These camoufleurs could easily turn truth into fiction by invalidating facts. This interplay between truth and fiction is a feature of Bomford's work. His artmaking process hints at our vulnerability to invasive surveillance technology and how cyberculture intrudes into our factual world. The mash-up of pixels by a distant authority of Google controlled surveillance cameras, can create a fictitious reality and perhaps an unwanted, yet convincing truth. Bomford's imaginary structure teases out the tension between fact and fiction induced by a distant authority on a specific location. 

Cedric Bomford, Mountain Embassy. Installation view at SFU Gallery, 2019. Photo: Blaine Campbell.

Such was the grandeur of Taj Mahal that the British Raj disguised it to mislead the Axis pilots. What could possibly motivate the colonizer to protect something that is not even part of their identity? It is the spatial occupation of this white wonder that manifested the geopolitical sovereignty of the monarchy. However, times have changed, so have mechanisms of control. Spatial occupation is no longer a necessity for neocolonial domination, as the virtual has demonstrated. We should ponder, how does one nation emit all its ideological forces across regions? What is that only thing affiliating itself with every global conflict? It is an embassy – a diplomatic establishment erected far from its origin within a distinctive architectural framework. It is that one institution which can vanish the remainders of a dissident. Its intervention can trigger a revolution in a foreign land. Even the relocation of its physical existence can validate an illegal occupation. Drawing on the multifaceted roles of embassies, Bomford's installation unfolds the complex interplay between internal and external power domination, both globally and locally.

Located at the crossroads of two realities, Simon Fraser University's campus and the UniverCity development, Mountain Embassy functions as a taunting remark on an academic institution's negotiation between utopian and dystopian resolutions. The university itself is an embassy for students and researchers from all over the world. But there is perhaps a limit to this utopian dream when one can identify the mobilizing force for the communities like UniverCity, developed not so far from the university. With commerciality at its core, this urban community calmly adheres to the province's infamous real estate market – a market pampered by a questionable influx of foreign money that trifles with economic equity. Moreover, the university's selective shedding of its identity for the film industry reminds us what's a stake, both politically and economically, for students. How much of the self does one get to keep inside academia? How much of the self does one have to shed outside academia? Bomford's camouflage may have created an illusion with images of SFU's brutalist architecture, but it does no justice to the burial of what's underneath; the embassy brings its own reality to anyone who enters its domain.

Cedric Bomford, Mountain Embassy. Installation view at SFU Gallery, 2019. Photo: Blaine Campbell.

N.B. No condominium sales centers were harmed in the making of this exhibition.


Mohammad Zaki Rezwan is an international student and MA candidate at the School for the Contemporary Arts, Simon Fraser University. He is currently working as a Curatorial Assistant Intern at Centre A: Vancouver International Centre for Contemporary Asian Art. This reflection stands out as a fragment of his reality, cautiously elucidating the remainder of his inceptive inquiry. 


For information about Cedric Bomford's exhibition Mountain Embassy, click here.

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